May 4, 2020 Naglfar – Cerecloth (Album Review)
The Swedish Blackened Death Metal scene was just one facet of the nation’s fertile treasure trove of extreme sounds to develop back in the early 1990s. Many of those bands either faded away, morphed into more melodic territory, or came to violent ends. There are not many that have taken the path of Naglfar.
Forming in the northern city of Umeå in 1992, their brand remains unwaveringly the cold and frenetic hybrid of Black Metal and Death Metal for which they have always been known. On Friday, May 8th, 2020, Naglfar will release Cerecloth, their first album in eight years, via Century Media Records. After a long hiatus, can the veteran horde pull themselves past some of the newer and busier acts, and show the world where this form of Metal was truly perfected?
Throughout their career, Naglfar has perhaps stayed below the radar a bit. They never had the controversy of some of their more provocative countrymen, such as Dissection, Marduk, and Shining. They never stepped away from their blueprint the way In Flames, Entombed, and Soilwork has, for better or for worse. Much like Dismember, Naglfar have only evolved within a certain framework, and as lead single “Cerecloth” rips through the listener’s skull, it is clear that all these years later, the fire to make blasphemous, high-octane Black Metal still burns hot. Tension-building breakdowns, rolling drum blasts courtesy of Efraim Juntunen, and the ever-present hell-rasp of Kristoffer Olivius augment the speedy and majestic riffage of Guitarist Andreas Nilsson quite effectively. The song, like many on the album, is rather brief. It goes for the throat and doesn’t let go.
Across the album’s breadth, Naglfar sticks mainly to this formula. Atmosphere is constructed around aggression and warp-speed riffing. Where execution meets intent most explosively, one can look to the album’s scrumptious middle section. “Vortex of Negativity” entrances with an open chord intro and cymbal rolls, the tried and true sonic equivalent of someone grabbing you by the collar and getting into your face. Olivius’ voice is sufficiently otherworldly enough in this Unisound/Dan Swano and Marcus Norman, Swedish as hell production, to resemble the stygian depths of some of the filthy Finnish Black Metal bands like Sargeist and Horna. The devil is in the details, as they say, and such subtleties are how albums differ from one another for bands who like to stick to the same building blocks and artistic vision.
The Black Metal fury goes up another notch on “The Dagger In Creation” and “A Sanguine Tide Unleashed.” Between them, “Cry of the Serafim” is slow and meandering by comparison – until its final minute, where it all comes together. If Naglfar was going to rely on the speed method completely, however, they would not have written the doomy, Candlemass meets Dawn majesty of “Necronaut,” which gives the listener a bit of a breather after being pummeled. The tempo goes up just a bit for album closer “Last Breath of Yggdrasil,” a beastly evil gem of splendid melodies and cemetery-by-moonlight atmosphere. Hell-paced speed and blasting may be Naglfar’s biggest strength, but this album highlight is a prime example of a great Heavy Metal song from 2020 that makes it feel like 1992 without sounding dated or simply retro.
Naglfar has turned in a magnificent performance from an individual standpoint, as each member’s contributions are simply supreme. There is plenty to like here, collectively, as well. While Naglfar may not be as full of surprises as some other bands of their ilk, they have shown that even after eight years away from the studio, they are more than capable of kicking everyone’s ass in the room. This is why Cryptic Rock gives Cerecloth 4.5 out of 5 stars.